Georgia Racing

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The Sinking of "Georgia" in the Sydney to Hobart Race

Sunday, December 28, 2008

20100506_090523-001"There was a bang ... the rudder was ripped out ... she was going down" by Josh Gidney, Jacquelin Magnay and Edmund Tadros, The Sun-Herald, Australia

It was champagne sailing for the 24-crew aboard Georgia - then their Sydney to Hobart went horribly wrong.  Thirty-two nautical miles off Jervis Bay, in darkness, they hit something in the water.

"There was a loud bang.  Then there was a second large bang and the rudder was ripped out of the back of the boat," co-skipper Graeme Ainley said.

Tactician Matt Hannaford likened the sound to "lightning going off".

"We had two sails up, doing 15 knots, and no way of controlling the direction of the boat."

It was 8.45pm on Boxing Day and they immediately started to bail water out of the yacht.

"We realised very, very quickly that she was going to go down," Mr Ainley said yesterday.

He had called in for a regular positional check at 8pm and the accident happened about 45 minutes later.

Cruising Yacht Club of Australia officials said a mayday call was issued from Georgia at 9.20pm, a result of her losing her rudder and taking on water.

Race committee chairman Tim Cox liaised with the relevant authorities, including the Australian Maritme Safety Authority, NSW Water Police and the CYCA emergency management team, to carry out a rescue.

The Radio Relay Vessel JBW assisted with the rescue by communicationg instructions from the race committee to nearby vessels, and the closest yacht, Telcoinabox Merit, was sent to Georgia to assist.

By 11pm all the crew were transferred to Merit using the liferafts and then transferred to the police launch Nemesis closer to Batemans Bay.

"The first thing that has to happen is that the safety of the crew is assured," Mr Ainley said, as he relaxed with the crew at a Batemans Bay cafe yesterday morning.

"It took about 30 minutes to stabilise the boat and another 30 minutes to get our procedures and controls into position."

Asked about his emotions at the time, Mr Ainley said: "Because of the training, it's not an issue of fright.  It's an issue of managing the situation."

Crewman Bruce Williams said: "It was the only time I have been gald to have been followed by the police."

The crew watched with disappointment as Georgia went down.

"Losing it is disastrous, heartbreaking," Mr Ainley said.

"Jim Farmer [the previous owner] will be upset with me for sinking his boat."

Mr Ainley would not be drawn on how much the boat was worth.

"Let's just say a lot of money," he said.

Until the craft hit what the crew thought was sea junk, conditions were ideal, Mr Hannaford said.

"With a two-metre swell, it had been beautiful, champagne sailing," he said.

It was the second time Mr Ainley had been involved in a Sydney to Hobart resuce - but last time he was the rescuer, his crew picking up John Quinn, who had fallen overboard in 1993.

Mr Ainley said the seamlessness of the Georgia resuce was helped by the safety measures implemented after the disastrous 1998 race, in which six sailors lost their lives during a wild storm.

"After 1998, sea safety survival training became more intense," he said.

Georgia was a state-of-the-art vessel bought in New Zealand two years ago.

"All the Team New Zealand boys have [been] sailing on it," Mr Hannaford said.

It was not all bad news, as Mr Ainley was delighted with how his crew and the rescuers responded to the situation.

"It was fantastic; they couldn't have handled the situation better," he said.

Mr Ainley said that this would be his last Sydney to Hobart race but Mr Hannaford was not convinced.